Axios Des Moines

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February 15, 2024

🖤 Happy Thursday and Singles Awareness Day. You don't have to share all the chocolate!

🌤️ Weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 40°.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 870 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Environmental grant snubbed, again

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov. Kim Reynolds' office recently denied a request to endorse applications being made by counties to tap into a federal environmental grant program.

Why it matters: Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) — the same program Reynolds' administration refused to apply for last year — are providing $5 billion to state and local governments.

  • Significant local environmentally friendly investments are likely if county efforts are successful.

Catch up fast: The grant is part of an inflation reduction bill signed by President Biden in 2022 intended to help state or local governments implement "ambitious plans" for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution.

Zoom in: Iowa is one of five states not participating, alongside Kentucky, Florida, Wyoming and South Dakota.

  • The decision means investments will go to larger metro areas rather than distributed via a more coordinated, statewide approach, Brian Campbell, director of the Iowa Environmental Council, told Axios last year.

Driving the news: Officials working together from Polk, Dallas, Guthrie, Jasper, Madison, Story and Warren counties sought a state government endorsement to strengthen their CPRG application due March 1.

  • A state employee responded to the counties by saying the governor's office had instructed them not to give the recommendation, county administrator John Norris tells Axios.

The intrigue: No support from the governor might instead help the county's chances with the EPA, who is aware Reynolds turned down the state's opportunity to participate, Norris said in a memo to county supervisors this month.

  • A spokesperson for the governor declined Axios' request to speak on the record.

The big picture: Reynolds' administration has rejected more than $200 million in federal grants in recent years, including more than $29 million in food assistance this year for children of low-income families.

Separately, Polk County Health Department officials are currently asking supervisors for $40,000 to make up for another federal grant that has covered for decades cancer screenings for women without insurance.

  • New requirements and administrative costs not paid by the grant resulted in the state's decision not to apply, Alex Murphy of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services tells Axios.
  • Iowa continues to participate in a similar program, he says.

Keep reading: Why Reynolds won’t reconsider summer program

2. Day care enrollment struggles

The inside of Link & Learn. Photo: Courtesy of Link & Learn

A day care pilot program focused on providing affordable child care to Polk County health care and service workers is struggling with low enrollment.

Why it matters: Iowa has a shortage of 350,000 affordable child care spots, per a 2023 post by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

  • The day care program is meant to help alleviate this, but is at risk of shutting down if they don't enroll more kids.

How it started: Polk County allocated $600K to West Des Moines-based nonprofit Link Associates in 2021 to launch an on-site, low-cost day care.

State of play: Link Associates helps people with intellectual disabilities.

  • The day care facility, "Link & Learn," opened in October 2023 and offers Link Associates employees a discounted rate.
  • Reduced rates are also given to service workers in Polk County ranging from medical employees to Goodwill staff.
  • Full-priced day care is also available and state assistance is accepted.

Zoom in: Day care administrator Carissa Williams tells Axios that despite being a new, secure facility that can accommodate 24 toddlers and eight infants, only seven kids are enrolled.

  • Parents often rely on word of mouth when deciding on a day care, Williams says.
  • But because Link & Learn is new and opened in October — a more unusual time for enrollments — that may be contributing to the enrollment struggles.

What's next: They've further lowered their rates and are encouraging interested families to learn more about their program.

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3. The Ear: Watch Caitlin make history

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

⛹️‍♀️ As Caitlin Clark likely sets the new NCAA all-time scoring record tonight, read about a player who had more points in the 1980s, a time when women's basketball had its own governing body. (Wall Street Journal 🔒)

💰 Supervisors narrowly approved a 4% raise for themselves and Polk County's other elected officials this week. (Des Moines Register)

Bruce Gerleman, owner of Jethro's, has received criticism online for public comments to a liberal news outlet, saying "f--- Joe Biden" and that "Chinese nationals" are preparing to take over the U.S. (The Young Turks)

4. Surviving funnel week

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Here are four notable bills that have passed the Legislature's funnel week.

  1. Gender balance: Ends requiring equal gender representation on statewide boards and commissions, Iowa Capital Dispatch reports.
  2. Teaching patriotism: Requires social studies curriculums to include lessons on the "history and meaning" of the U.S. flag and anthem. It also requires lessons on the "cultural heritage" of the U.S. and Iowa and studying the nation's "exceptional and praiseworthy history," the Register reports.
  3. Arming teachers: Creates a permit allowing school staff to carry a firearm if their district allows it. The bill requires an annual background check and training for the permit, IPR reports.
  4. Limiting public land: The Iowa DNR can no longer bid for or acquire land from a nonprofit that obtained it from an auction, ICD reports.

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5. Where's Jason?

Uh oh. Jason is looking very, very serious today. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

🗳 Hit reply and correctly guess Jason's location and we'll add you to a drawing for a free Axios shirt!

  • Check back tomorrow for the answer and a story about this spot.

🌱 Spring thoughts: One man's horticulture hobby has turned into "The Trendy Gardener" in West Des Moines.

This newsletter was edited by Everett Cook and copy edited by Lucia Maher.